Saturday, April 4, 2009
Ghetto Nerds Wrestlemania 25 Countdown: Legends of Wrestling Roundtable--African Americans in Professional Wrestling
Wrestlemania 25 is tomorrow night. This evening will feature the Hall of Fame Ceremony with the one and only Stone Cold Steve Austin as the featured inductee. On the "undercard" longtime fan favorite, Koko B. Ware will be inducted as well. This is a controversial choice among smart marks because Koko was a novelty act whose career in WWE was rather undistinguished (although he did wrestle for many years in the regional territories prior to arriving in McMahon's company). Of similar controversy, is the induction of legendary wrestling promoter Cowboy Bill Watts--a man noted by many to be "a good old boy," an unrepentant racist. I have heard these stories, but until this interview remained undecided. Based on this interview, my instincts tell me that Cowboy Bill Watts has been unfairly maligned.
Well-timed, the great television series Legends of Wrestling recently had a feature for Black History Monthly called "Soul of Wrestling" that covered just these issues, as well as the experiences of African Americans in professional wrestling, more generally. This is really great stuff:
Teddy Long, the territories, and Ron Simmons becoming the first Black Heavyweight Wrestling Champion:
Who knew that Harley Race wanted Tony Atlas to be champion? And that Olie Anderson was against it because Atlas was a Black man? Or that Dusty Rhodes had such strong feelings about the Nation of Domination?
It is all about the green isn't it? Is it any surprise that Olie Anderson was such a bigot? Most importantly, this clip features Bill Watts on running wrestling events in Texas--and his fear that Whites would riot if African American wrestlers were featured on the card:
The panel reflects on the rise of the Rock:
Friday, April 3, 2009
The Curious Case of Gay-Porn Star Identical Twins
by Richard Rys
The flashbulbs were oddly silent as the four models sat inside a photography studio, waiting for their moment to arrive. Never mind that the studio was in Delaware; this was high fashion meets old money. The models had been carefully selected by casting agents representing the London-based bank Barclays to star in a print campaign pitching the Barclays-branded Visa and MasterCard to a prospective corporate client—Ralph Lauren. For the models, it was a chance to be seen by the Ralph Lauren tastemakers, perhaps even the patriarch himself, a possible stepping-stone to becoming a face of the prestigious fashion company. Yet well past the scheduled start time, Barclays' creative director was calling a casting agent in a panic. "Keyon isn't here!"
Keyontyli Goffney is striking in a way that makes both women and men take notice—he's black with a trace of Thai, and has brown eyes, angular cheekbones, and a lean, chiseled body. At 26, he had the portfolio of an up-and-comer, including a Nike ad. He had also done extra work on television: as a lifeguard in a Lifetime miniseries starring Rob Lowe, on Law & Order, and as a dancer next to Tom Brady in a Saturday Night Live sketch. But Keyon wasn't content to be a backdrop for Gisele's quarterback husband; he wanted to be the next Tyson Beckford, to achieve his own stardom by doing Polo ads. The Barclays campaign could be that elusive big break, and he was missing.
The casting agent phoned Keyon's talent rep, who was stunned to hear her client was a no-show. Soft-spoken and polite, he was generally punctual. The rep tried every number she had for him and got only voice mail. Days passed before Keyon finally called to apologize. His grandmother had fallen ill, he said, and he had to take care of her. It was hard to argue with putting family first, but was there really no one else who could tend to his grandmother so he didn't miss the biggest job of his career?...the story continues here.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The Bruno Trailer is Finally Here!! or Thank God Sacha Baron Cohen Didn't Finish his Phd on Blacks and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement
Who says you can't be ABD (for those not in the misery clique, that is the abbreviation assigned to folks who haven't finished their dissertations) and still be fabulous...and a genius.
How can you not laugh at Bruno collecting his (presumed, as it seems an obvious dig at Madonna) African adopted child at the airport baggage check? And of course said child would have to have an "African" name like "OJ."
Sacha you be the man.
A bonus: some classic Borat clips:
Late to the Party Part 1: Racism While Shopping in an Upscale Store or My Dear Crying, Young, Well-Intentioned, White Liberal, There is No Santa Claus
Seeing that I was traveling last week, I was late to the party on the ABC News series, "What Would You Do?" and its feature, "Shopping while Black."
These types of exposes are underwhelming to me (you didn't know that folks are conflict averse--except perhaps the Brits in this video--and will choose to ignore racism rather than confront it?). Racism is not new. Racism is not going away any time soon. And we certainly are not living in a post-racial moment (as some on both the Left and the Right--for very different reasons--would like us to believe).
Sure, I could entertain you with my stories of being followed by clerks and salespeople around department stores. I could get a rise by conveying my experiences of being seated by the bathroom, also known as the black and brown section, in high-end restaurants--and the consternation when I complain and demand to be moved. Or, I could raise an eyebrow with my story of how I protested to the management of Urban Outfitters when I was singled out by a clerk who demanded my identification before allowing me to use my debit card to make a 2o dollar purchase.
Well, this latter story is actually worth retelling because when I asked said clerk why would they want my ID for such a small purchase (and not coincidentally why they did not ask for identification from the white customers in line ahead of me) she replied "for your protection sir, of course." I smiled and replied, "well, if I was going to use a stolen credit card and risk going to jail, why wouldn't I spend 100 or a 1,000 dollars as opposed to 20 dollars on a cheap throw for my couch?" Predictable response: "uhh, hmm, I am not sure." Her coworker's response: "This is odd, I never saw her ask anyone else for ID before." My response: "exactly."
I could cap it off with a story about being stopped for driving while black, or how my cousin, a very prominent DC area politician and attorney, was stopped and threatened with a loaded shotgun by a state trooper on the beltway because his car was "too expensive, and he had to be a drug dealer." Needless to say, being a respectable negro is hard work and all this stress can be detrimental to one's health. Ultimately, to me at least, these stories are anti-climactic, blah, tiresome, and oh so 'meh.
In my opinion, what is actually noteworthy and striking about the ABC News vignette is how the young white woman begins to cry when she witnesses the racist treatment of the black female shopper/victim. This is the real power of the "Shopping While Black" featurette. Here, the truth is not in the great reveal that black and brown folks are racially profiled. Rather, for those raised to believe in post-racial and colorblind politics, the cult that is multicultural America (where race no longer matters because hip hop is now "youth culture" and White kids can say "nigga" or that United Colors of Benetton ushered in the "cool" that is the marketing and corporatization of racial diversity in the 1990s), to actually see the ugliness of white supremacy is utterly shocking and painful. I smirk at these moments because in a perfect world someone would shake this young woman out of her Utopian, racially tinged halcyon dream and ask her, "how would you feel if you had to deal with this racist garbage--passive, secret, and often active, day in and day out?" I wonder what she would actually say? Would she deny this impulse as one born of paranoia and hypersensitivity, or would she simply stand mute?
Funny, in this instance our oh so upset young female protagonist somehow manages to become the "victim." White privilege wins again, no?
In short, her crying reminds me of the moment when one realizes that Santa Claus is not real, or that their parents still have sex, or even worse, that a teenage boy will tell any half-truth, at any time, to sleep with any given young woman (I call this one, the "I love you" lie or the "You told me you loved me!" tale).
My disgust is not limited to this crying, blubbering, sad, young woman as this is not a narrative only about race and white racial privilege per se. It is a broader critique. In this woman's histrionics I can imagine that many young people of color would act in much the same way. Why? because their parents have protected and sheltered them from the realities of a racialized world. This sickness is often more endemic among those folks of color where class privilege has allowed them to insulate (or is that protect?) their children from the ugliness that is racism. For this reason, I am an advocate of telling your children the truth, the whole truth, because the sacred burden of all parents is to equip their progeny with the necessary skills to successfully navigate a complex, and often unfair, world.
Am I cruel because one of my favorite moments is telling the most bourgeois and sheltered students born of the colored class about either the bloody summer of 1919 or the Tulsa Race Riots where material prosperity was no protection against White terror? Where Black success attracted White violence? Am I foul for smiling at these students in their moment of cognitive dissonance when the ugly truth, often denied or conveniently ignored, comes rushing towards them like a locomotive?
Moreover, the fact that is racial life in America is why I raise an eyebrow at those multiculturals, biracials, and others who want to raise their children to "decide their own race" because this "noble" choice leaves these young people without the necessary protective screen that comes with an understanding of the particular challenges that come with living life in a raced body.
Maybe I am mean. Or perhaps, I am cruel. But, I would like to believe that I am just committed to the truth.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The CNN feature on the Los Angeles based serial killer known as "the Grim Sleeper" is frightening on any number of levels. First, that this story has gone under reported. Second, that there are at least 20 to 100 serial killers operating in the United States at any given moment. Third, that one of these human predators may be living right next door.
This is some Tales from the 'Hood madness:
When I came upon this feature I immediately thought of Dr. Park Dietz. He is a noted forensic psychologist and one of the world's foremost authorities on serial killers. Dietz is a master of his craft: he becomes a confidante to the serial killers, earns their trust, and these serial killers in turn give him "privileged" insight into their twisted psyches.
Be afraid, very afraid...and be forearmed with knowledge:
Dietz with Jeffrey Dahmer--
The hitman, Richard Kuklinski also known as "The Iceman"--
Andrei Chikatilo, "the Butcher"--
How killers rationalize their deeds--
Now, I am going to lock my doors and stay inside the rest of the day.
Chauncey DeVega says: Jack Johnson, A Badman, A Respectable Negro, and Hopefully to be Pardoned in 2009
This must be an April Fool's Day joke. Who would have thought that old Mr. Morton, aka John McCain, would want to pardon one of my personal heroes?
Jack Johnson, one of the greatest boxers to ever live.
Jack Johnson, a pugilist of great skill who delighted in whooping White folks behinds in the squared circle--in an era when White supremacy was the law of the land.
Jack Johnson, whose fists laid blows for justice.
Jack Johnson, a man who wouldn't play the Tom or the Coon or defer to any man.
Jack Johnson, who cavorted with any woman he chose, when he wanted, and how he wanted to.
Jack Johnson, who stuffed his trunks with socks and gauze in order to intimidate his White opponents by performing his own version of impenetrable negritude, the hoodlum, the big black buck who haunted the dreams of both polite and less than respectable white society alike.
Jack Johnson was a respectable negro.
Jack Johnson was also a badman.
Jack Johnson is one of my, and our, heroes.
The story follows:
WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain wants a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, who became the nation's first black heavyweight boxing champion 100 years before Barack Obama became its first black president.
McCain feels Johnson was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman — a conviction widely seen as racially motivated.
"I've been a very big fight fan, I was a mediocre boxer myself," McCain, R-Ariz., said in a telephone interview. "I had admired Jack Johnson's prowess in the ring. And the more I found out about him, the more I thought a grave injustice was done."
On Wednesday, McCain will join Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., filmmaker Ken Burns and Johnson's great niece, Linda Haywood, at a Capitol Hill news conference to unveil a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Johnson. Similar legislation offered in 2004 and last year failed to pass both chambers of Congress.
King, a recreational boxer, said a pardon would "remove a cloud that's been over the American sporting scene ever since (Johnson) was convicted on these trumped-up charges."
"I think the moment is now," King said.
Presidential pardons for the dead are rare.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the Army's first black commissioned officer, who was drummed out of the military in 1882 after white officers accused him of embezzling $3,800 in commissary funds. Last year, President George W. Bush pardoned Charles Winters, who was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act when he conspired in 1948 to export aircraft to a foreign country in aid of Israel.
The Justice Department and the White House declined to comment on this latest Johnson pardon effort.
However, the idea has a passionate supporter in McCain, who has repeatedly said he was wrong in 1983 when he voted against a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
"It's just one of those things that you don't want to quit until you see justice," McCain said of Johnson's case. "We won't quit until we win. And I believe that enough members, if you show them the merits of this issues, that we'll get the kind of support we need."
Johnson won the world heavyweight title on Dec. 26, 1908, after police in Australia stopped his 14-round match against the severely battered Canadian world champion, Tommy Burns. That led to a search for a "Great White Hope" who could beat Johnson. Two years later, the American world titleholder Johnson had tried for years to fight, Jim Jeffries, came out of retirement but lost in a match called "The Battle of the Century," resulting in deadly riots.
Johnson lost the heavyweight title to Jess Willard in 1915.
In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which outlawed transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.
Authorities first targeted Johnson's relationship with a white woman who later became his wife, then found another white woman to testify against him. Johnson fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence. He tried to renew his boxing career after leaving prison, but failed to regain his title. He died in a car crash in 1946 at age 68.
"When we couldn't beat him in the ring, the white power establishment decided to beat him in the courts," Burns told the AP in a telephone interview. Burns' 2005 documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," examined Johnson's case and the sentencing judge's admitted desire to "send a message" to black men about relationships with white women.
Both McCain and King said a pardon, particularly one from Obama, would carry important symbolism.
"It would be indicative of the distance we've come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go," McCain said.
Burns, however, sees a pardon more as "just a question of justice, which is not only blind, but color blind," adding, "And I think it absolutely does not have anything to do with the symbolism of an African-American president pardoning an African-American unjustly accused."
Burns helped form the Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson, which filed a petition with the Justice Department in 2004 that was never acted on. Burns said he spoke about the petition a couple of times with Bush, who as governor of Johnson's home state of Texas proclaimed Johnson's birthday as "Jack Johnson Day" for five straight years.
Bush gave Burns a phone number which led to adviser Karl Rove, Burns said, but Rove told him a pardon "ain't gonna fly."
Rove doesn't recall any such conversation with Burns, his spokeswoman Sheena Tahilramani said, and "if he had been approached, he wouldn't have offered an opinion."
I love creative genius. I grew up in a house with a musician, and can't help but appreciate a great story in the mainstream press such as the following (and this same musician told me I was pretty good on the Alto sax, but I wasn't great--so I best find another instrument to play. He also gave me half of the 1500 dollars I needed to buy my first two Technics and a mixer...got to love a dad like that). And most importantly, the first paragraph invites some Youtube, tricknology embracing posting.
From the New York Times:
For bowlers the ultimate test is the 7-10 split. For card sharks it’s the hot shot cut. For drummers it’s the funky little miracle of syncopation known as the Purdie Shuffle.
You’ve heard Bernard Purdie — better known as Pretty Purdie — perform his creation on Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” from the 1977 album “Aja.” And you’ve heard variations on songs by Led Zeppelin (“Fool in the Rain”), Toto (“Rosanna”) and Death Cab for Cutie (“Grapevine Fires”).
Created with six bass, high-hat and snare tones, the Purdie Shuffle is a groove that seems to spin in concentric circles as it lopes forward. The result is a Tilt-a-Whirl of sound, and if you can listen without shaking your hips, you should probably see a doctor...
the story continues here.
Re: that first paragraph, I could have gone with Mark Roth's 7-10 conversion, but I always preferred John Mazza's:
The Hot Shot Cut (to be honest, before I saw this video, I had no idea what the hell this was):
I was going to put up "the helicopter" from the "Japanese Kamasutra" (definitely NSFW) but I didn't want to get a lecture from my compatriots. In its place, I offer the following routine from Mixmaster Mike that was featured in the documentary Scratch. It isn't too difficult per se, but it is wonderfully perfect:
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Are sisters really hurting this much? I hope not, because that display was just pathetic and histrionic. Nevertheless, how can you not love the narrator's incisive analysis of the dualism (perhaps walking contradiction) that is the strong black woman/black woman in need of a good black man to support her.
Our narrator is in Kool Moe Dee meets BDP era KRS-ONE mode in this clip. Remember black man, don't let them treat you like King Kong! Never, ever, ever...
Get to the foxholes brothers because we are in a war with White feminism--I didn't get the memo, but then again I am not on the mailing list. Question: our "general" has a thing for Queen Latifah does he not? Second question: would Plato and Socrates agree with the king of Blacktown.net? Third question: just what is so wrong with piss colored hair? Is his objection a function of an aesthetic preference, or has piss colored hair somehow done the mayor of Blacktown.net wrong?
Pastor Manning will forever remain my personal happiness pill. But, I have to admit that the Church for Men Only does bring me great joy.
Who knows, maybe President Obama will appoint the leader of Blacktown.net to a position in Health and Human Services? But, if the mayor of Blacktown.net takes the job he should tread carefully as not to arouse the ire of our First Lady!
Monday, March 30, 2009
The Real Obama Stimulus Package: A Face that Launched a Thousand Ships has Sold Many More Doo Rags, Wave Caps, Cheap T-shirts, and Bad Wigs
I must ask: Where's Waldo? Or more appropriately, how many random and misplaced objects can you find in these two pictures? My personal favorite would have to be either the "tummy belt" or the yellow plastic ghetto crocs. I can also imagine a brother or sister buying the inscents for an evening love session whereupon he/she returns home and announces, "baby, when I light these love sticks I am gonna put the Obama on you!"
What is the best or worst use of Obama's image that you have seen? What products should we expect him to "endorse" in the near future? Is this commercialization run amok or just another (positive) example of brothers and sisters getting their hustle on? (well, likely not brothers or sisters, as we know that black Americans own dismally few businesses in their own neighborhoods).
Bonus number 1: Dr. King, Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Ali would have used Apple computers and not PC's--
Bonus number 2: Never forget that Dr. King died so that you could eat McDonald's and become morbidly obese--
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Yes, I watch professional bowling. Yes, as folks who have been coming to our site for sometime know, I basically grew up in a bowling alley (another story, for another time).
And yes, I do think that bowling is authentic ghetto nerd behavior.
In watching the pro tour this week, I was totally thrown out of frame (get the pun!) while preparing to watch bowling phenom, Jason Belmonte (the guy who doesn't use his thumb in the bowling bowl, and instead uses a two handed delivery--insert fingers into mouth to induce vomiting...I am a purist, back in my day I was more of a "stranker," I swore by the book Bowling 300, and still consider David Ozio to be the epitome of bowling excellence):
It seems that the PBA is now using the Notorious BIG's song "Juicy" as background music for its televised events. This is just too much for me to bear. Once more I declare that hip hop ("commercial," at least) is officially dead. Also notice the use of the phrase "strong Island" during the telecast. What has happened to our youth I must ask, because to me, time seems to have certainly passed us by.
Nevertheless, Biggie will always be, and thus remain, timeless in his greatness.
Gordon and I have often wondered what hip hop would like in 30 years. I have always joked that it would be a wax museum come to life with Snoop, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye, Jeezy and the like performing at oldies shows, for their aging, still wanna pretend to be thugs for the evening fans whose pants have long since ceased to sag as a signifier of style or youthful rage (now they just sag because folks are just old and don't care anymore). Predictably, their grandchildren will look on with shock and disgust...just as we goof on our parents and grandparents when they go to see the once counter-culture, and now wonderfully passe, icons of their youth. Fate (and time) does indeed have a sense of humor.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Those who create terrible Hollywood movies, especially bad romantic comedies and family comedies, are an unimaginative lot. Not only do they use the same actors and clichéd plots, they use the same songs in the films and in the trailers. Some of these songs are used ironically; some are used seriously. Some are usedfor montages; some just for trailers. Most of them are stopped by a "needle being dragged off the record" sound.
The songs below are undeniably great, but because I hear them so much in romantic comedy trailers, I associate them with Hollywood dreck and can no longer simply enjoy them the way I would like to. It's really kind of depressing.
1.) “I Feel Good (I Got You)”—James Brown:
2.) “Let’s Get It On”—Marvin Gaye:
3.) “I Want You Back”—Jackson 5:
4.) “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”—Stevie Wonder:
5.) “I Put a Spell on You”—Screamin Jay Hawkins:
“Groove Me”—King Floyd
“Loving You”—Minnie Riperton
Does anyone else have this problem? What black songs has Hollywood ruined for you?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Reflections on Battlestar Galactica's Finale--the Politics of Race, Place, and Memory
The finale is now past and Battlestar Galactica has gone out in fine form. The consensus among critics has been almost unanimous: Galactica's 3 part finale "Daybreak" has answered our remaining questions, and exited while still being provocative and timely. While some will complain about the ambiguities of Starbuck's exit, or how neatly the story now seems to have tied up its many loose ends, I for one, am content. The first 90 minutes of the episode gave us action (how can any ghetto nerd not get a shiver up their spine at the sight of the Old School Centurions going mano a mano with the "new School" Cylons?), while the last hour gave us resolution and closure (President Roslin's passing, and Adama's loving eulogy was heartfelt and sincere, he really is the proverbial old man on the mountain).
In watching the finale several more times, and trying to reflect on the series as a whole, I have come back to 3 recurring themes. Yes, as I have noted here and elsewhere, Battlestar Galactica has always been about the "now"--be it the war in Iraq, the disaster of Katrina, our worries about technology robbing us of our humanity, or holy war and terrorism. But, Battlestar Galactica has also been about the historical, or more rightly the transhistorical--those themes that cross decades and centuries of human experience. In total, Battlestar Galactica, as highlighted most tellingly in its finale, has been centered on the themes of race, place, and memory.
Race(ing) Battlestar Galactica
Race and a sense of profound racial difference between the Cylons and the humans, this idea of "us and them," has been the fuel for their decade long conflict. In science fiction, the cyborg (the human looking robot or synthetic life form) has been a powerful mirror for our own society's duel madness of both race making, as well as the maintenance of racial orders. As I am so fond of saying: race is a fiction, a social construct, but it is a dualism of sorts because this fiction is also true and real. This theme that is repeated throughout Battlestar Galactica.
Baltar's "Cylon detector" in season 1 is a thin reference to the pseudoscience of race and racialist thinking in the late 19th and early parts of the 20th century. The almost fetishistic quality assigned to the half-human/half Cylon child Hera, the racialized body, or in the case of the latter, the mixed race body, is an object of fascination and obsession. The power of love, or more bluntly how Battlestar Galactica depicts inter-racial sex as somehow recuperative, radically humanistic, and a pathway to godliness and wisdom (Caprica Six and Baltar, the two most passionate lovers on the show are also the emissaries, either symbolically or literally of fate and God) is one of the bedrocks of the series.
As the Battlestar Galactica's epic unfolds, we discover that humans and Cylons are more alike than they are different...so similar in fact, that there are no physical characteristics that truly distinguish them from us. In the same way that there are no human "races" or sub-species, we cling to the social realities of race and how it has, and continues to, structure our societies. Likewise, the humans and Cylons hold onto the imagined differences of biology (and parallel an imagined difference in biology with a firm dividing line of theology) in order to remain grounded on some fixed reference point in what is a tumultuous and unsettled world.
In both Battestar Galactica and our world, these differences of race are comfortable geographies of belief, philosophy, reason, and perception that help us to navigate and make sense of our lives. Blood is not necessarily destiny. But blood, be it the struggle between Cylons and humans, or the fight for (and against) a fully realized and inclusive democracy in this country, hints at how blood--differences both real and imagined--can be fate, or in the case of Battlestar Galactica, fated. In reflecting on race and racial difference, the lesson that Battlestar Galactica offers comes in the form of a question: do we go forward together or do we remain here, standing apart?
Looking for Place in Battlestar Galactica
Place is the second theme that drives Battlestar Galactica. And place is directly related to the idea of home. As Roslin told Adama in the concluding episodes of this season: sometimes home is where you make it; home is where you feel most comfortable and where you lay your head; home is an idea as much as a real location. This theme resonates throughout the show.
The human colonies, the literal home of humanity, were destroyed by the Cylons. The Cylons have been searching for a home as well, be it by destroying the homes of the humans (and occupying the colonies) or by creating a paradise where Cylon beliefs and "humanity" are acknowledged as full, normal, right, and natural. In narrative terms, the idea of home has pushed forward the plot. The ragtag fleet has been forced out of the colonies and sent wandering across the galaxy in search of their ancestral home. In keeping with its religious subtext, Battlestar Galactica's human protagonists are cast out into the wilderness, where like the ancient Israelites, humanity will wander until they find their destiny--or until their destiny finds them.
Home is also a fantasy. Recall, that this whole journey was set into motion by a struggle over home and place, and if it would be either the Cylons or the humans that had a right to exist, as well as to ownership over the 12 colonies. This was a battle fought over a generations long war, the origins of which have been debated, reimagined, forgotten, and (re)remembered (e.g. was it the Cylons who actually started the war? or did the humans provoke the confrontation? Were the Cylons slaves who were the victims of human exploitation? Or was the Cylon response disproportionate to the "crimes" committed against them?). In the first episodes of the series, Admiral Adama in a leap of fate intended to fight the despair that would surely destroy humanity as quickly as any Cylon Basestar, told the human fleet a "true" lie: Earth is real and that he will lead them there. In fact, Earth was the stuff of mythology and fantasy. It was only through blind luck, the intervention of the fates, and human daring and courage that the fleet survived and triumphed.
Here again is where place and home are so central to Battlestar Galactica's mythos. We finally found Earth, and then discovered it was destroyed. We found a second Earth, "our" Earth long in the past, and decided that it was "the" Earth that humanity was always fated and destined to find as salvation. It is on this second, new, now real, and forever "original" Earth, that humans and Cylons can find the peace of home. The question remains: will we, as the descendants of humans and Cylons, create artificial intelligence, thus repeating the cycle of creation and destruction, and once more force our future descendants to venture forth to the stars to find a new home? As Adama said, "Earth is a dream, we have been chasing it for a long time, we deserve it." Do we?
Battlestar Galactica Memories
Memory is the third leg of the triad that anchors Battlestar Galactica's epic story. In thinking through the series's aesthetics, the how of its storytelling style, I am struck by how often it used flashbacks. Characters were always remembering their pasts. The origins of the war, and the theologies of the Cylons and the humans were communicated through appeals to memory and the past. The Final Five, shared their memories in an effort to bring an end to the war, but also to reconstruct their own lives. For me, one of the pure joys of Battlestar Galactica, is how it inexorably moved forward, while continually moving its frame of reference to the past. The combination of these two elements made for a challenging and rewarding drama that rewarded close attention, while fueling reflection and speculation by its fans.
Surely, the main characters were exercises in memory. Adama and Tigh remembering their decades long friendship, and how their fates are tied to each other. Ellen's memories of her eternal love for Tigh. Starbuck struggling with how she will remember herself given the discovery that she is both dead and alive. Baltar and his profound narcissism and egomania--a desire to work through the memory of how he betrayed humanity by aiding the Cylon attack, while also trying to craft a new memory (or would it more rightly be memorialization?) and role as a spiritual mentor and prophet.
Battlestar Galactica is also about memory on a grand scale. Here, I suggest that the show is also about how humanity remembers itself. Specifically, the idea that throughout the struggle to find Earth and to survive the Cylon genocide, humanity and its leaders (Adama and Roslin in particular) chose hope over despair. Adama chose to fight the Cylons when it would have been easier to retreat or to surrender. Adama chose to launch a suicide attack to save Hera when it would have made tactical sense to surrender her to the enemy. The human resistance on New Caprica chose to fight against impossible odds, rather than sacrifice their dignity to the Cylons. Regardless of what one thinks of Admiral Cane's leadership style, she too chose to fight rather than to surrender. Each of these examples speaks to how humanity would want to be remembered--as a race that chose to fight rather than to surrender, and moreover, that struggle has dignity, worth, value, and meaning for how our own epic is remembered and retold by our ancestors. Ultimately, the heroes of Battlestar Galactica, those survivors who chose to face battle, to be daring and brave when others would have cowered and retreated, struggled so that even in defeat, our dignity as human beings would be preserved.
My favorite memory from Battlestar Galactica, and one of those moments that encapsulates the best of the series and its beating heart and soul, was the great reveal where the Final Five discovered themselves and one another. Saul Tigh, in a moment of naked honesty tempered with profound denial declared that, "My name is Saul Tigh. I'm an officer in the Colonial Fleet. Whatever else I am, whatever else it means, that's the man I want to be. And if I die today, that's the man I'll be."
For me, this is the essence of Galactica. We choose our memories. We fight for our identities. We choose to survive. And in these trying times, as the economy, our sense of collective well-being and security, and relationships with one another are tried by increasingly powerful forces that are outside of our control, Galactica's message that hope can triumph over despair, in fact that hope must triumph over despair, is Battlestar Galactica's most powerful truth--a truth that speaks to why it will be remembered as one of the greatest series in television history.
1. Did the show end the way you would have expected? Was the finale totally out of left field so to speak, or was it quite predictable?
2. Is Galactica a profoundly conservative show at heart? Or is it very liberal and transgressive?
3. Will we repeat the errors of our ancestors? Will artificial intelligence destroy us? Is this fate?
4. Baltar and Six and the beings of light from the original series. Comment?
5. Cool moments, during the finale, Simon quoting Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars: A New Hope.
6. Cool moment #2: Galactica borrowing the Daedalus maneuver from the SDF-1 on Robotech.
7. John/Cavil shooting himself, rather than suffering the humiliation of capture. Question: isn't Cavil one of television's best villains? The idea that he set free Final Five so that he could torment them is masterful. Second question: so, did John prevent the Cylons from destroying the fleet so that he could torment his creators?
8. So the humans spread out and settle the Earth. They are the source of our mythology. Could it be that some were not content to live as Luddites, thus explaining the existence of civilizations such as Atlantis, and humanity's long held beliefs in magic and sorcery? Could the diversity in human religions (polytheism; animism; monotheism) be rooted in the diversity of religious beliefs held by the human tribes and the Cylons?
9. Starbuck, Adama, and Apollo--the father, the son, and the holy spirit? Is Starbuck the third part of Christian divinity?
10. Hera as the mother of humanity. Got to love the humans returning to the cradle of humanity and civilization that was mother Africa.
11. During the last few minutes of the conclusion, was anyone else thinking of the controversial Time Magazine cover that in an effort to speak to the "browning" of America morphed together together all the different human "races" to generate a new Eve?
12. I have to go here: what of the folks of color on the show? With the exception of Adama (who is not "coded" for as Latino), do we really have any redeeming non-white characters on the show? Consider: Torrie kills Cally; Bulldog is a brainwashed "traitor"; Bill Duke's character runs the black market; Simon is for all intents and purposes a rapist; Gaeta betrays the fleet; Boomer is foul while Athena is the loyal, "Asian" with her Hapa child and white husband; and Dualla cannot cut it and kills herself. What is a brother or sister to do?
13. How can you not love that the opera house hallucinations, were in fact the Galactica herself! Battlestar Galactica was a grand opera, so how better than to speak to that fact than to hide one of the show's great mysteries in plain sight.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I know this ghetto nerd isn't alone when I share my sadness at the end of our beloved Battlestar Galactica television series. We will have Caprica to look forward to, but Moore's reimagined series has given us so much to talk about, and has left such a legacy, I think anything else set in that universe will pale in comparison (and would have ever thought that the cast of BattleStar Galactica would have the opportunity to appear before the United Nations! how far we have come).
The finale is tomorrow night, and I will certainly be posting a piece or two on the series. I have also reached out to some fellow BSG fans and they too will be offering their reflections and thoughts.
Here is where you all come in. Are you a fan of the new Battlestar Galactica? Are you also going to be suffering withdrawal following the airing of the finale tomorrow night?
If so, share your thoughts with us. Do you have an exegesis of the show that you want to share? On its politics, depictions of gender, race, religion, or technology? Do you have a poem or some fan fiction that you have wanted to get out to a broader audience?
Some other thoughts: If you were a character on BSG, what character would you be and why? What is your favorite BSG moment? Do you love BSG? Why or why not?
You get the idea.
This is our bon voyage to what this ghetto nerds thinks is one of the best shows in recent television history, and this is our last frakkin' chance to give the old girl a proper going away party.
In keeping with our traditions, the best submissions will receive a token of ghetto nerd appreciation--we still have some of Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, the Beautiful Struggle to share with you all, and we may have some other swag as well.
So say we all!
For an example: here are some earlier BSG related posts from Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds that some of you may have missed the first time around.
Gordon Gartrelle Says: Shelby Steele Isn’t a Coon, Tom, or Respectable Negro…He’s a Black Supervillain!
After reading Chauncey’s latest appeal to define Shelby Steele as a Coon, Tom, or Respectable Negro, I’ve determined that none of those categories is right for Steele and his ilk.
What do they have in common?
Yes, they’re all successful black men and they would all define themselves as conservatives (except for Crouch, who is very different from the rest of these characters. I’ve included him here because he shares their M.O.).
But what else? Be honest.
They’re all goofy-looking, goofy-sounding nerds.
It’s clear that they were socially awkward kids. Their childhoods in a nutshell:
They were laughed at and beaten up by black boys.
They were ignored and rejected by black girls.
They were never fully accepted by black people (They attributed this to their intelligence and uniqueness, when really it was due to their social ineptitude).
They were called punks, chumps, simps, and wimps.
They spent many lonely nights crying into their pillows.
They did all they could do: they buried themselves in their studies.
They worked hard, promising themselves that they would get back at the black people who cast them out.
They bided their time, waiting, stewing in their self-hatred and resentment.
They made it into the upper echelons of popular conservative thought.
The once timid nerds are now stentors spewing racial nonsense from their giant platforms.
They have (in their minds) enacted their ultimate revenge on the black people who clowned them.
Behold—the birth of the Black Supervillain!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Chauncey DeVega says: He Loves Him Some White Folks or Is Shelby Steele a Coon, an Uncle Tom, or a Respectable Negro?
I have such mixed feelings about Shelby Steele. Listen for his observation that "freedom is a revolutionary idea for black America." Goodness. And yes, I will leave it at that.
Steele is so smart and has the potential to speak so much truth to power, but more often than not his politics appear to be grounded in a deep self-loathing. Moreover, in his working for such think tanks as the Hoover Institute, Steele has clearly signed away his soul to be one of the very well compensated black poster children, aka slave catchers, for the Right.
His latest piece in the Wall Street Journal, where he laments the inability of conservative ideology to compete with the grievance based culture of "liberalism" and how it has monopolized narratives of truth and justice, is another such example. In short, Steele argues that black and brown folk (and their liberal masters) have held America's conscience hostage, and virtuous White people (code for conservatives) have not been acknowledged for how they are in fact the true defenders of human dignity, worth, and equality in America. For Steele's reimagining of history, it was those who argued in favor of the broader Civil Rights agenda that were immoral, and not the conservative, racial reactionaries--many in Steele's own Republican Party--who held firm against racial progress and social justice.
In short, as Mathew Yglesias pithily observed on his Atlantic Monthly blog, "Shelby Steele Hearts White People."
The three faces of Shelby Steele (my playful name for the trio of videos in this post) made me think about my own politics--as well as those of Gordon and Zora. Are we in fact conservatives? We rail against white liberal guilt, liberal racism, as well as conservative bigotry and myopia. Our wrath and disgust knows no bounds of party or ideology, so where do we fit on the ideological spectrum? What makes us respectable negroes so different from Shelby Steele?
I know the terrain of my own personal politics (even as I struggle to articulate my beliefs in the form of a coherent ideology) and for now, I will leave them unstated.
Thus I ask, is Shelby Steele a Tom, a coon, or a respectable negro? And why?
My vote: Shelby Steele is a Tom, because he has no love for himself or for his people. Steele cannot be a "coon," because while a coon may not understand how he or she is embarrassing black folk (or more generally, how a deficit of race pride informs their behavior), coons at least have some love for themselves as "black" people. Respectable negro? Impossible, because one cannot simultaneously be a lap dog for the Right and also a respectable negro--like matter and anti-matter, the two states exist in perpetual and permanent contradiction (and explosive hostility) to one another.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Zora Says: What Does it Say That We Finally Have a Negro in the White House with "Madea Goes to Jail" as the #1 Movie in America?
I am really struggling to maintain the high I achieved on my trip to witness the inauguration. I returned from D.C. to a town fraught with economic anxieties. The major employer in the area, my employer, had announced that soon it would be entering an unprecedented period of layoffs. My community is largely white with a strong "town-gown dynamic." The expectation was that the layoffs would be concentrated among lower-level support staff -- "townies" -- and among more recent hires -- "outsiders" who tend to be mostly minority. The result was that folks outside of those constituencies did little to prepare themselves for the cuts. With their Obama buttons on their lapels, they put together restructuring proposals that would do away with diversity initiatives and benefits for pink/blue- collar workers, and that would consolidate responsibilities under insider, white managers. Picture Sarah Palin wearing one of those Obama masks.
Surprise, surprise ... the cuts did not happen as expected. The decision-makers actually took the time to assess the value of the employees based on their productivity, performance evaluations, and ability to work with others. The cuts were still bottom-heavy, but not as much as expected. The result was that there were significant lay-offs among those who had considered themselves untouchable. When the news broke, the atmosphere was like that in the Republican National Committee during McCain's concession speech. It didn't take long for folks to start leveling the "stink-eye" at the "outsiders" who survived the cuts -- as a relatively young, African-American woman, that includes me. Of course, it was my gender and race that saved me. It had nothing to do with the fact that I manage to be twice as productive with half of the resources of others, that I regularly work 10-12 hour days while my colleagues are off skiing in Stowe, that I am one of a hand-full of employees who have made an attempt to update practices that were put in place back in the seventies, that I have turned around an office that my older, white colleagues deemed un-fixable, ... Nope, none of that.
We should not be surprised. Obama's election was a watershed event in American politics; however, it is naive to expect that Americans would drop their racial hang-ups with his election. Up until a few months ago, his own Secretary of State was pulling out every affirmative action stereotype she could think of: "he's smart, but he's not experienced," "he's articulate, but lacks leadership skills," "his mentors and advisers are the engines behind his success." Obama was labeled as an "outsider" not just to Washington politics, but to American society as a whole. What's so funny is that many of the folks who were quick to point out the racial hypocrisy and prejudice of the campaign season, are the very same who refuse to acknowledge it in their reactions to recent layoffs. It is a lot harder for them to acknowledge racial baggage when it sits on their own stoop. Obama is not their competitor, I am.
Even more funny is the indignation that is expressed by supposed Obama supporters when you call them on their prejudice and lack of understanding. One of my colleagues suggested that restructuring involve the slashing of our institutional diversity offices and personnel. First, she cited the election of Obama as proof that such resources were no longer needed. She then went on to suggest that as a white woman married to a black man, she was perfectly suited to anticipate and address issues of diversity. (In case you are wondering, she has no formal training on these issues.) She was offended that her "expertise" would be questioned. I tried to get her to acknowledge the absurdity of her assertion by suggesting that men have an intrinsic understanding of women's issues simply by being married to women. She failed to understand my point and looked at me like I was the idiot. This woman was part of the lay-offs and is now considering a discrimination lawsuit based on her status as a middle-aged, white woman -- no kidding. I still see her zipping around town with her Obama CHANGE bumper sticker.
Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote in the New Yorker about politicians who are arguing that the Voting Rights Act is no longer relevant given Obama's election. He counters this by pointing out that voting patterns in the Deep South signal that race continues to be a major factor in American political life: "Barack Obama actually did worse among whites than John Kerry in several of the covered jurisdictions, despite the nationwide Democratic swing." We should be careful not to dismiss this data just because it focuses on the South. Those of us who have been "raced" experience everyday instances, difficult to recount and impossible to quantify, that confirm racism as a continuing phenomenon in our society. Conservatives are not alone in their desire to use Obama as an excuse to take racism out of the national dialogue. Joining them are some so-called "progressives" who are all too willing to use their Obama button as a way out of confronting their own demons.
So what does Obama in the White House have to do with "Madea Goes to Jail" being the #1 movie in America for seven weeks? Well, I began thinking about this question when I realized that being #1 for seven weeks means that Negroes are not alone in flocking to view a tired stereotype play itself out on screen. When I saw it showing at the local theatre in a town where the number of black people amounts to less than one percent of the total population, I really began to wonder. Why is Madea so popular at a time in our history when you would think that such a character would be passé?
It wasn't until I was approached for the third or fourth time by white co-workers praising Madea that I realized why he/she is so popular. Madea evokes a time when Negroes were non-threatening, when their only legitimate roles were to serve and to entertain. With the fate of our nation in the hands of a black man, it would make sense for Americans -- still immature in their racial understanding -- to cling to such stereotypes like a baby clings to a pacifier. And, in my role as an African-American woman who is perceived to have unjustly survived a major layoff, I can't help but to think that my co-workers' praise for Madea signals their desire that I conform to what he/she represents. Again, the irony is that these are people who are nearly Obamaniacs. At the same time, are they also people who are uncomfortable with the thought of losing white privilege?
Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Watchmen has a Dark, Intense, Brooding Soul, But I don't Know if It has a Beating Heart
We all have rules for entrance into the party, a magical password that signals, "I belong."
For students of film, it is having watched Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. For students of modern literature, it is having read Ulysses. For philosophers (pretend or otherwise) it is having read Nietzsche, Kant, or Hegel--in German. For East Coast hip hop fans, it was knowing every line and verse of all the Notorious BIG songs ever released by DJ Mister Cee.
And if we don't possess this knowledge, we know how to pretend that we do. Moreover, we are skilled at lording the truth of that lie over all who would dare to enter "our" world. For comic book geeks, Watchmen is a password for entrance into the sacred tribe.
My confession, I have lived a lie of sorts. I have never read Watchmen. Thus, I come to Watchmen with relatively virgin eyes.
With that confession now made, while I cannot assess Watchmen by a standard of measurement relative to the original text, I can, with great confidence, make the claim that Watchmen is an amazing achievement. It is "special"...and I rarely give such an accolade.
For the uninitiated, Watchmen posits a world where super-heroes are not the stuff of fantasy or fiction. They are normal, typical, and as flawed as the public they ostensibly protect. This is an alternate reality where Nixon is still president in the 1980s and the Russian-U.S. rivalry threatens humanity with imminent destruction. Domestically, the American government passes a series of laws banning costumed heroes because they are threats to public order. It is a dystopian world that is creator Alan Moore's critique of the celebratory, juvenile, unreflective and jingoistic conventions of superhero comic books as a genre, as well as Reagan and Thatcher's neo-liberal political order. In total, Watchmen set the standard for "dark" or "adult" works in the medium. And so long is its shadow, that Watchmen made possible such films as the Dark Knight, where now the mass public finally accepts, some 23 years after Moore's work was originally published, that comic books (and their adaptations for the screen) are "serious" works.
The world of Watchmen, and the world of our present, are both suffering from an existential dilemma, a deep crisis of being. It is this shared experience that explains the resonance of the film. While some would suggest that Watchmen is dated Cold War era fare, they miss the central point of the text--that a crisis of meaning and values lies at the heart of our late 20th century (post-modern) project.
In parallel, a crisis in meaning and a lack of faith lies at the heart of Watchmen. In much the same way that capitalism is in crisis because the public has lost faith in the invisible hand of the market, Watchmen depicts a world where nothing really matters. During the Cold War, it was looming destruction through nuclear cataclysm that gave our collective experience a pause and emptiness. At present, it is an imminent Depression and the evaporation of trillions of dollars of wealth where all that worth and value has been exposed as so much mist and illusion.
The uncertainty of our world is revealed through the characters of Watchmen. The public has no use for super-heroes as they are reminders of their own frailty and pathetic normalcy. The superheroes themselves are Gods among men, but they too are imperfect. They are prone to the same moral weakness, desires for the flesh, the arrogance of egomania, and narcissism as any "normal" man. The one "hero" in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan, is literally a super man, the one figure who comes closest to possessing God-like powers. But, he rejects the title of god and doubts the very existence of a master creator. From the perspective of Dr. Manhattan, a character laden with symbolism, even time is flexible and malleable. In the post-Newtonian world, the age of Einstein's Theory(ies) of Relativity, time, the one constant that ostensibly binds us all together, is itself unmoored. This change is so profound that even time itself, what was once a universal constant, is reduced to being but one variable in a far more complex equation.
As Dr. Manhattan observes, what are we to do with a world where there is a master clock but no master clockmaker, a Deism without the initial mover? How depressing is this thought? Not surprisingly, the Comedian and Rorschach, the only two characters with the insight and vision to see this existential absurdity, are depicted as psychotic and unbalanced. In this skewed world, it is through madness that one achieves sanity and clarity of mind.
Standing alone, the character Ozymandias imagines himself to be a god. But, Ozymandias is utterly amoral and irresponsible in how he uses the god like powers that he has achieved through technology. Ozymandias is also a true pretender. Thus, he fails because of a lack of maturity and moral vision, traits that are demanded by godly power.
In total, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero. However, "anti hero" in this usage is not the same as anti-hero. Here, it is not the anti-hero--the badman, Clint Eastwood's "the Man with No Name"--a figure who is amoral, but who we idolize nonetheless. Instead, Watchmen is a meditation on the anti hero in the sense that heroes do not exist.
Quite simply, there are no heroes in this world because the public does not deserve them, and Watchmen cannot be heroes because they are undeserving of the adoration.
Watchmen is also a deep reflection on the sexual themes that are omnipresent in superhero comic books (e.g. Wonder Woman's lesbian sensibilities and appeal to kink; the thin homosexual subtext between Batman and Robin):
In the shadow of the Cold War--what itself was in many ways a phallocentric rivalry over whose "missile" or "bomb" was bigger--the costumed superhero speaks to our sexual impulses and anxieties. For example, be it how the Nite Owl dreams of having sex with Silk Spectre 2 where at the point of climax a nuclear bomb detonates in the background; the playful allusion to a pathetic, masochistic "villain" who liked to be physically abused by Watchmen (until Rorschach kills him); the Comedian's rape of Silk Spectre 1; or the Nite Owl's impotence and how it was replaced by male libido, strength, and ecstasy once he donned his costume for a night of adventure, there is a close link between violence and sexual release in Watchmen.
The costume allows us to hide ourselves and to become someone else. This second skin reveals the impulses and desires that are normally hidden from public view. Alternatively, for the superhero, this denial of one's true self can tragically lead to the depressingly routine boredom of (what could otherwise be an extraordinary) life lived in plain sight:
This is one of Alan Moore's central critiques of the West's abundance, commercialism, and excess: What of a world where the extraordinary is ordinary? Where the magical is common? Where the super and the miraculous are typical? Would you want to live in this world?
Because it is so dense thematically, Watchmen can be viewed from either the foreground or the background. By this, I mean one can "simply" watch the movie and have a very satisfying experience. But, Watchmen can also be viewed more deeply, where the audience looks to what is occurring in the depth of the screen as being primary, rather than secondary, to the film--the details in the frame, the signals and cues in the background, what is written on the numerous billboards that are generously spread throughout the city (a hint: look for multiple references to the company Pyramid Deliveries), the happenings on the periphery of a scene, or the music playing in the background. In watching the movie multiple times one gains an appreciation for how layered this film actually is, and why Watchmen transcends being merely a "movie" and becomes something far grander.
Ironically, Watchmen's depth is the foci for one of my few criticisms of the film.
There are moments in the movie's score that are directly borrowed from the seminal, dystopian film, Blade Runner. While watching Watchmen, and hearing the hauntingly melodic notes of Blade Runner, I was reminded that a film can be dark, and at times even hopeless, yet still have a beating, passionate heart:
Watchmen contains a second moment that also speaks to this sentiment. During the concluding scenes of the film, Ozymandias is surrounded by a wall of televisions, on one of which, the film Mad Max: the Road Warrior is playing. Like Batman: the Dark Knight, the Road Warrior is a reminder that a film can be dark, even sad and brooding, and still have a heart.
By comparison, Watchmen is a cold movie that is deeply soulful, but one that ultimately lacks a heart.
Watchmen is a masterful accomplishment. Zack Snyder has created an amazing work of transposition. Some would say that he has simply copied a masterpiece--and thus dismiss Snyder as a filmmaker who is incapable of originality. As a rebuttal, I would argue that sometimes transposition is a more difficult task because one has to retain the essence of a thing, while making careful choices about what to change or excise. It is in this act of transposition, and how successfully Snyder has done so, that makes Watchmen a near-masterpiece of a movie.
Coming full circle, a question still remains: how many children of the 1970s and 1980s who dreamed of what a Watchmen film could be are going to be disappointed? Can it win a duel with their imagined memories and fanciful expectations?
I don't know if it can, but I certainly hope that it will.